Early Routines for Mental Health

ByDr. Marshall

Early Routines for Mental Health

I just finished the most interesting and valuable article. Well, I didn’t just finish it. I actually read it yesterday morning but I have been thinking about it since and I pulled it up and re-read it again this morning. It was written by Jennifer Weil Malatras, Ph.D. and it reports findings from recent research studies that indicate that establishing a schedule and maintaining family routines provides children with a sense of order, predictability, and security.

That’s not new news, of course. We have known for years that children thrive on routines and predictability. Knowing what’s coming next, knowing what is expected, and what will and will not be tolerated orders and structures their day. By the time we reach adulthood, we know that routines help. We have learned over time that if we put our keys and our phone in the same place every day, we don’t have to go on a frantic search later on. Our regular morning routine that helps us get our day off to a good start. You know how disconcerting it is when you sleep in someone else’s house and you have to go to work in the morning.

It’s the same with kids. They need some structure, of knowing where things are, of doing the same routine each morning to function efficiently. One of the first recommendations we offer to parents of children with ADHD is to structure the day so that things happen at about the same time and in the same way every day. When I work with youngsters with challenging behavior, I almost always ask about morning routines and bedtime routines. If you can’t get your kids to bed at night and/or you can’t get them up in the morning, the child has way too much control. It’s time for parents to regain control and to establish routines that eventually benefit everyone in the house.

What is important about the new research is that it analyzed the effects of family routines on a wide range of outcomes. In addition to better sleep quality and sleep habits, family routines were also associated with fewer behavior problems in children and less depression and anxiety in adolescents and adults. Note the more important finding is that family routines also have a positive effect on the development of self-regulation. We know that by age five, children should be able to control their emotions and by age eight they should be able to self-regulate.

Another critical discovery in research with college students is that a stable family environment is associated with fewer attention problems in late adolescence and early adulthood. If you are raising children and you have not yet established well-defined daily and weekly family routines, please give it serious consideration. The research is clear, stable and predictable family routines are associated with better sleep, fewer behavior problems, fewer attention problems, enhanced self-regulation, and less depression and anxiety later in life.

The lovely thing about establishing family routines is that it’s something that every parent can do. It doesn’t cost money, it requires no special training, and they can start immediately. Our advice is to start small and add to it gradually as you succeed. Start with a new mealtime routine; once you have achieved that, establish a new homework routine. Then go on to the more difficult ones, like bedtime and morning routines.

About the author

Dr. Marshall administrator

Richard Marshall earned an Ed.D. in reading and learning disabilities at West Virginia University in 1982. While completing his doctoral studies he served as an educational specialist in the Pediatric Neurology. Upon completion of his degree he became an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the WVU Medical School. After moving to Florida in 1983, he joined the faculty in the Department of Pediatrics in the College of Medicine at the University of South Florida and worked for five years in the Neonatal Developmental Follow-Up Program. In 1993, he completed a Ph.D. in School Psychology at the University of Georgia with an emphasis in Child and Adolescent Neuropsychology. Upon degree completion, he taught courses in the biological bases of behavior and neuropsychology at the University of Texas in Austin. He also served as developmental psychologist at the Children’s Hospital of Austin. He and his family returned to Florida in 2001 and he once more became a faculty member at the University of South Florida. He is presently an Associate Professor in the College of Education and he is an adjunct associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences at the USF College of Medicine. In 2008, Dr. Marshall co-authored the Pediatric Behavior Rating Scale; in 2011, he co-authored The Middle School Mind: Growing Pains in Early Adolescent Brains (2011) and is currently revising the Handbook for Raising an Emotionally Healthy Child (2012). In addition to writing and a busy schedule of workshops and presentations, Dr. Marshall also maintains a private practice in Lakeland, Florida where he specializes in the assessment and treatment of children and adults with emotional, behavioral, and learning disorders; parenting; family therapy; and couples counseling. As part of that practice he maintains a daily blog and he co-hosts The Mental Breakdown Podcast (iTunes, Google Play Music, and YouTube) and the Psychreg Podcast. He has spoken to professional and community groups throughout the United States, Canada, Europe, and South America.

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